|David Brooks, at center right, encounters a working-class Belgian in Antwerpen, 1991. Kidding. The image is of Henry Stanley discovering David Livingstone, from a Daily Mail feature revealing the fun fact that in his 32 years as a missionary in southern Africa Livingstone made only a single convert, a local chief, and not entirely successfully, given that the chief found himself unable to give up four of his five wives and adopt Christian monogamy.|
Anybody who spends time in the working-class parts of America (and, one presumes, Britain) notices the contagions of drug addiction and suicide, and the feelings of anomie, cynicism, pessimism and resentment.And, one presumes, Britain. He hasn't spent much time in the working-class parts of Britain in the last few months, but why would it be any different from Lansing or Lost Hills?
I didn't even know we had working-class parts of the country, as opposed to aristocratic and capitalist parts. I mean, I knew there was a good bit of class segregation, but I thought that was mostly on a local, neighborhood basis.
Anyway all working-class persons in the US and the UK too, one presumes, work within an honor culture of the kind described in J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (HarperCollins 2016, literally released today, and presumably the key to interpreting today's column, that he promised somebody he was going to blurb it but thought he really ought to be writing a piece about the UK referendum before McArdle corners the market—he's trying to get both done at the same time).
After all, such people are patriotic. This is certainly what he learned in Belgium from 1990 to 1994, where he wrote op-ed columns for the Wall Street Journal:
When I lived in Brussels, this sort of intense personal patriotism was simply not felt by the people who ran the E.U., but it was felt by a lot of people in the member states.He used to get tons of face time with the working classes back in those days. You couldn't get face time with the EU bureaucrats, of course, since as everyone knows they are tragically faceless.
What else? There's the reference to that paragraph by Daniel Bell he read once—we dealt with it at some length in 2014—and some tantalizing glimpses of his interview technique as he crosses those chasms of segmentation:
In my travels, you can’t go five minutes without having a conversation about a local sports team. Sports has become the binding religion, offering identity, value, and solidarity.BROOKS: Say, fellow, I am researching the collapse of traditional cultural values and the spread of anomie among the working classes. Would you care to supply me with some cogent examples of your suffering and resentment?
WORKING-CLASS PERSON: Uh... Uh... How about those Penguins?
Families might be messed up in a million ways, but any act of disloyalty — like sharing personal secrets with outsiders — is felt acutely.BROOKS: Do you have a lot of drug addiction and suicide in your family?
WORKING-CLASS PERSON: All right, I'm calling the cops.
At length he starts flopping toward a conclusion,
There’s now a rift within the working class between mostly older people who are self disciplined, respectable and, often, bigoted, and parts of a younger cohort that are more disordered, less industrious, more celebrity-obsessed, but also more tolerant and open to the world.
Trump (and probably Brexit) voters are in the first group. They are not poor, making on average over $70,000 a year. But they perceive that their grandchildren’s world is quickly coming apart.And, one presumes, Brexit. I don't quite see why people who want the president to be the former host of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice and WWE guest star qualify as less celebrity-obsessed than those who don't. Or why Brooks should not suspect that the grandchildren have views of their own on that subject or any other.
What he concludes, of course, is that American older working people and, one presumes, British ones as well should stay as they are, and those disordered and celebrity-obsessed rapscallions should be more like them, except of course they shouldn't be bigoted, because that's not very nice. Bigotry is part and parcel of pain:
Their pain is indivisible: economic stress, community breakdown, ethnic bigotry and a loss of social status and self-worth.But it can easily be fixed with a new and improved patriotism:
We need a better form of nationalism, a vision of patriotism that gives dignity to those who have been disrespected, emphasizes that we are one nation and is confident and open to the world. I’m thinking we have a lot to learn from Theodore Roosevelt, but that’s a topic for another day.
|Colonel Roosevelt illustrates how to be patriotic without any hint of bigotry, and also not panicking at all. Via the Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt.|
There's much more shit to sweep up, but I can only manage so much. Driftglass, luckily, covers a lot of it too, with some hilarious blasts from the past. LGM's Paul Campos reflects on the oddity of defining "working class" as a bunch of white guys earning a median of $72,000 a year.